The SEC’s Office of Investor Education & Advocacy (OIEA), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the National Futures Association (NFA), the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), & the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) are issuing this Investor Bulletin to provide investors with information about the three themes of World Investor Week 2023, a global campaign promoted by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) to raise awareness about the importance of investor education & protection.
A resilient investor plans for life’s unexpected challenges with budgeting strategies to manage risk, reduce the impact of inflation, & avoid high-interest debt. If you want to improve your resilience as an investor, here are three tips to consider:
- Diversify your investments.
Diversification is a strategy where you spread your money among different investments to reduce your overall investment risk. The idea is that if one investment loses money, the other investments can make up for those losses — like the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” By picking the right mix of investments, you might be able to limit your losses & reduce the fluctuations of your investment returns without sacrificing too much in potential gains. Also, carefully consider how much, if any, of your portfolio to devote to speculative or complex investments.
A diversified portfolio should be diversified at two levels: between asset categories & within asset categories. So, in addition to allocating your investments among stocks, bonds, cash equivalents, & possibly other asset categories, you also should consider spreading out your investments within each asset category.
The key is to identify investments in segments of each asset category that might perform differently under different market conditions. For example, the value of some investments might be negatively impacted by inflation, a general upward movement in prices. Inflation reduces purchasing power, which is a risk for investors receiving a fixed rate of return. Inflation also can lead to higher interest rates &, in turn, lower market value for existing bonds. The value of other investments might be positively impacted by inflation.
Some investors find it easier to achieve diversification through ownership of mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) rather than through ownership of individual stocks or bonds.
To learn more, read FINRA: Asset Allocation & Diversification.
- Eliminate high-interest debt & have an emergency fund.
Consider making a plan that helps you pay off high-interest debt & build emergency savings as you invest.
No investment strategy consistently pays off as well as, or with less risk than, eliminating high interest debt. &, having adequate emergency savings will help you weather financial shocks without turning to credit or selling investments when you don’t want to.
Most credit cards charge high interest rates — as much as 18% or more — if you don’t pay off your balance in full each month. No investment will give you guaranteed returns to outweigh the high interest rate you generally pay with a credit card or other high-interest debt.
An emergency fund is rainy-day money you keep in a bank or credit union to use if you have an unexpected expense, like a cracked phone screen, car repair, or family emergency. If you don’t have an emergency fund, even a small financial upset can result in a long-term debt.
To save enough money to have a buffer for life’s unexpected expenses:
- set a savings goal, such as three to six months of living expenses;
- take advantage of one-time opportunities, such as tax refunds or gift money; &
- save automatically, such as by setting up a direct deposit to a savings account with each paycheck.
- Look out for investment frauds & scams.
Investment fraud comes in many forms. For example, fraudsters may exploit social media, celebrity endorsements, & impersonations to lure investors into scams.
Be aware that fraudsters might contact potential victims on social media platforms — including professional networking, dating, & messaging websites/apps — or through unsolicited text messages or opportunities to trade using “other people’s money.” A fraudster might first pretend to be an old friend or claim to have contacted you accidentally. They might then initiate a friendship or romantic relationship with you to gain your trust, & convince you to invest your money before they disappear with the funds. Do not invest money based on advice from someone you have solely met online or through an app.
Investors should not make investment decisions based on endorsements by celebrities or so-called social media “finfluencers.” While there is nothing new about marketers paying celebrities to endorse their products, a celebrity endorsement does not mean that an investment is legitimate or that it is appropriate for all investors. Celebrities, like anyone else, must disclose that they are getting paid to promote investments in securities. & celebrities, like anyone else, can be lured into participating (even unknowingly) in a fraudulent scheme. Also, celebrities are sometimes linked to products or services without their consent so the celebrity may not even have endorsed the investment.
You should also keep an eye out for impersonation schemes. Fraudsters often impersonate organizations or individuals to lure victims into scams, including through ‘deep-fakes’ that use new technologies to create convincing voice & video imitations. They might impersonate government agencies or employees, or legitimate investment professionals like brokers & investment advisers. Impersonators might be part of an advance fee scam, or might use personal information they obtain to steal an individual’s identity or misappropriate their financial assets. Safeguard all information relating to your personal finances or identity including your bank or brokerage account information, tax forms, credit card, Social Security number, passport, driver’s license, birthdate, or utility bills.
Here are two easy steps you can take to help protect yourself from losing money to an investment scam:
- Check that anyone offering or selling you an investment is licensed or registered. You can do this by using the free & simple search tools on Investor.gov, BrokerCheck, & BASIC. You might also contact your state or provincial securities regulator.
- Verify that an investment professional is who they say they are. For example, contact the professional using a phone number or website listed in the firm’s Client Relationship Summary (Form CRS), a form that your adviser or broker is required to deliver to you & that you can find using the free & simple search tool on Investor.gov.
To learn more about top investor threats & warning signs of fraud, visit NASAA Fraud Center.
Investors should be aware that:
- Investments in crypto assets can be exceptionally volatile & speculative, & the platforms where investors buy, sell, borrow, or lend these investments might lack important protections.
- Those offering crypto asset investments or services may not be complying with applicable law, including federal securities laws.
- Investors who deposit funds or crypto assets with a crypto asset entity might cease to have legal ownership of those assets & might not be able to get those assets back when they want to.
- Unregistered offerings may not provide key information that investors need to make informed decisions.
- Crypto asset securities held by a securities broker may not be protected by SIPC if the broker fails & is liquidated.
- Fraudsters continue to exploit the rising popularity of crypto assets to lure retail investors into scams, often leading to devastating losses.
- Finding out if your portfolio (including your retirement plans & investment accounts) holds any crypto asset-related investments requires you to take an active role in researching & asking questions. Investors should understand if they are being exposed to risky investments involving crypto assets.
The risk of loss for individual investors who participate in transactions involving crypto assets, including crypto asset securities, remains significant. The only money you should put at risk with any speculative investment is money you can afford to lose entirely.
If you are considering a crypto asset-related investment, take the time to understand how the investment works & look for warning signs that it may be a crypto asset investment scam. Carefully review all materials, ask questions, & watch for the signs of a fraudulent trading website. Check out the background (including license & registration status) of anyone offering you an investment in securities using the search tools on Investor.gov & BrokerCheck. Use NFA’s BASIC system to research the background of derivatives industry firms & professionals.
Learn more about investments involving crypto assets on Investor.gov or CFTC.gov.
Sustainable investing, socially responsible investing, & impact investing generally refer to “ESG” (Environmental, Social, & Governance) investing — a way of investing in companies based on their consideration of one or more ESG factors.
- The environmental factor might focus on a company’s impact on the environment or the risks & opportunities associated with the impacts of climate change on the company, its business, & its industry.
- The social factor might focus on the company’s relationship with its workforce, communities in which it operates, or its impact on society more generally.
- The governance factor might focus on issues such as how the company is run & executive compensation.
Investments may vary widely in their approach to sustainable investing. They may weigh environmental, social, & governance factors differently or may focus on different criteria within a factor. Investments that don’t have “ESG” in their name may still incorporate elements of ESG investing into their portfolios. On the other hand, if an investment has a term like “ESG” or “sustainable” in its name, don’t automatically assume it is right for you — it is always important to understand what you are investing in, & to be sure the investment is a good match with your investment goals.
There are funds that focus on ESG principles. To learn more about these funds, read Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) Funds.
If you have questions about your investments or your investment professional, or want to report possible misconduct, you can contact your state securities regulator. You can call the SEC’s investor assistance line at (800) 732-0330. You can also report a problem concerning your investments or report possible securities fraud to the SEC, or by emailing [email protected]. For a derivatives-related complaint (involving futures, options on futures, forex or swaps) involving a pending, current, or former NFA Member (as displayed in BASIC), file with NFA.
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